Meet Awards Alum Mary Klein

Photo courtesy of Mary Klein

Each year, RAL is lucky to work with hundreds of amazing jurors, connected through partner organizations from around the country, who constantly surprise us with their talents and generous spirits. This year, we had the pleasure of getting to know one of our art jurors at the Morean Arts Center in Florida, Scholastic Awards alum and longtime friend of the program, Mary Klein!

Mary first entered our Scholastic Awards family as a student at an all-girls Catholic high school in Ohio in the 1960s, receiving several Gold Keys and other awards in grades 10 through 12 for design, painting, and photography. Some of Mary’s work was even sent to New York City for National Exhibitions. Although much has changed since Mary submitted to the Awards, the excitement a young person feels when receiving their Scholastic Award remains the same. Read on to learn more about Mary’s experience with the Awards and where she’s taken her life as an artist since that first award. Don’t forget to check out Mary’s prompt, including how to share your art or writing inspired by the prompt, at the bottom of the post!

Q & A with Mary Klein

Q: What impact did receiving your award have on you and your path?

Mary’s Gold Key from the 1960s! Look familiar? Some of you may be wearing something very similar…

The first award I EVER received was in the second grade. I got so much attention from my peers and teachers, I knew that I should be an artist. When I received the Scholastic Awards in high school, it confirmed that I was making the right choice. I had no idea WHAT I would do with a degree in fine arts, but I knew that was my future. The last award I received was a Gold Key in photography in 1967. It was the first time I had ever entered something other than a design project or painting into the Awards, so I was really psyched when it won. Nothing spurs you on to greater things than success! After that, I wanted to be a photographer, but time and experience with other media changed that. Ultimately, I ended up working with enamel and metal. I find I love fire!

It seems that any time in my life where I have wavered from thinking I was an artist first and other things second, something crops up to let me know that, yes, art is where I belong. The confirmation along the way has been very helpful and I have managed to incorporate many of my other interests into my art, but art does always come first.

Q: How did you pursue your creativity after high school?

I went through college trying as many different media as possible, especially craft media. I did batik, weaving, printmaking, clay, sculpture, both wood and clay. I found I loved art history and ancient artifacts, most of which were in crafts media. I had always been a seamstress and so I incorporated a lot of the weaving, batik, painted cloth, and prints into things that I wore. Since this was the time of the hippies, I could wear just about anything, and I did!

When I first got out of college, I taught high school art and many of my students entered the Scholastic Awards and did well. One year, I submitted a little glass melted piece on behalf of one of my students who was labelled a “troublemaker,” and was going through a particularly tough time. Lo and behold, his piece won an award. Years later, this young man found me just to tell me that going up to receive his award had been the best day of his life. It still gives me goose bumps.

It was during this period that I learned to enamel on metal and make jewelry. After discovering that I could sell this stuff, I quit my teaching job and for over 20 years became a full-time artist. I did art shows, sold my work, and spent the rest of the year making more work to sell. I held classes in my studio and sold enameling supplies to schools. I did anything and everything I could to keep making art full-time. But there was always a subtle difference between the work I made to sell and the work I made to feed my soul…that work I kept hidden for me to see and no one else.

After a friend of mine got cancer, I needed to make some changes to my lifestyle. I stopped doing art shows and started wholesaling my work to galleries and gift shops across the country. It was a good move. While I miss meeting people and having people admire the work, I do not miss all the other prep work involved in selling at outdoor shows … and I still have a good back!

Q: What are you up to now?

Along the way, I managed to have work included in several collections around the country and abroad. I was President of both Ohio Designer Craftsmen and Florida Craftsmen, and I was on the board of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+). As a person who thinks in visual terms about everything, I wanted to be able to share that experience with blind children who could not visualize things in the same way. So, I learned to transcribe print books into braille (now I do over 700 early reading books a year!) and to produce tactile graphics (pictures like art, map, or graphs translated into tactile forms). I am also instrumental in setting up a local exhibition of artwork created by visually impaired and blind children … because we are all creative!

Q: Where can people find your work?

An ornament, made for sale by Mary in 2014. Photo courtesy of Second Childhood Studio.

I do not wholesale my work anymore, but it is shown in two galleries in my home of St. Pete Beach, FL. Vincent William Gallery is my main outlet for sales. I currently have a piece at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA and in an international traveling enamel exhibition. When a theme excites me, I do exhibition pieces for themed shows around Florida and the country. I also make tons of Christmas ornaments in enamel which are sold during the holidays through Second Childhood Studio. I spend a good bit of time working on braille books because it gives the best rewards ever.

Q: Anything else you want to share with young artists and writers, and the people supporting them?

It is important to remind yourself that you make things that help make other people’s lives better. It’s nothing you need dwell on consciously, but let’s face it, if you aren’t seeking an audience to view your work, why are you making it? Sure, it makes your life better, but you need to know that somewhere, someone will see the light in your work and say, “Wow, that person knows exactly how I feel.” You may never actually meet that person but someday, they may walk up to you and say, “Thank you! Every time I look at your work, I feel better.” There is no better payment. It has happened to me several times and it can happen to you, too. So, create for yourself, but never forget that someone else is out there who shares your thoughts and dreams, pain and sorrow. You touch them, they touch you. Yin/yang.

I would never have been able to become the artist or person that I am without the support of my family. My parents always wanted their oldest daughter to do well at whatever she did (be a professional at something), probably marry well, probably give them grandchildren, but I decided to do none of that and be an artist. I put artwork ahead of everything else, and they let me do it without looking back. They never said no. Thank the ones who support your vision as often as you can.

Start.Write.Now Prompt from Mary Klein

From Mary: I like people and much of my work is about people, so I often get inspiration from a photograph. I try to catch people being themselves and not formally posed—people just living life! I am always amazed that I can capture a personality in silver wire and melted glass. I create my work in cloisonné enamel on copper.

The Prompt: Create the layers of relationships in a photo of a group.

Find a picture of a group of people. Pick one person from the group as a focal point. Now figure out the relationships of that person to the others in the grouping. Do they know each other? What might they be saying to one another?

Create a visual or written set a layers beginning with: 1. the focal point; 2. The second layer of people around that person with whom he/she is reacting; 3. Extraneous people in the group who may just be there but have little or no relation to the focal point; and 4. The background against which this is all playing out. The focal point should include the most detail, with progressively less detail in each surrounding layer until you reach just solid shapes of color with no detail at all in the fourth layer. When you’re ready for another experiment, take the same picture and change the focal point—you’ll have a new work each time!

For an example, check out a piece of Mary’s work created using this technique. See if you can detect the four layers she saw in this scene.

Mary with three friends at the Women’s March in 2017. See if you can detect the 4-layers, including the focal point! Artist: Mary Klein

Start.Write.Now Reminders!

As a reminder, all responses to the Start.Write.Now post are due May 13. Email your responses to us at with the subject line “Start.Write.Now.” Make sure to review our guidelines for participating before emailing in your work. Everyone is invited to use this prompt as inspiration for your work this summer, even if you choose not to or are ineligible to participate in the Start.Write.Now challenge.

Check back on May 14 to see our May.Start.Write.Now prompt, and May 28 for a chance to see the works that this prompt inspired, who will be our lucky gift card winners!

All participants must be 13 years of age or older, and follow the Scholastic Awards eligibility criteria. For more information on participating, please see our full guidelines.

Have something thoughtful to share?

Email us at to share your inspiration. We want to hear from you! #thoughtfulthursday

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